Radical Candor Podcast

Podcast Season 4, Episode 16: What Do Managers of Managers Do? (The Crank Call From Kim)

Does anyone actually want to be a manager of managers? And if so, what do these people actually do? On this episode of the Radical Candor podcast Kim, Jason and Amy discuss strategies for being an effective manager of managers. If you’re managing people who manage other people, then you’re managing managers. Whereas if you’re managing individual contributors, you’re managing a team. The most significant difference when you become a manager of managers is that now you have to become a thought partner, not just on the functional expertise and the business your direct reports are running or the product that they’re building, but you also have to be a thought partner to them on how they’re managing their team.

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Radical Candor Podcast Episode At a Glance

Radical Candor Podcast

When you are a manager of managers, it’s your job to make sure not only that the authority you have doesn’t go to your head, but that authority doesn’t go to the heads of the people who work for you. In other words, you want to make sure that nobody on your team, including you, has unilateral decision-making power over who gets hired, who gets promoted, and who gets fired. You want to make these decisions as a team. 

As you switch from direct management of individual contributors to managing managers, you’re going to face new challenges. When you become a manager, you can’t be in the details of every decision; when you become a manager of managers you don’t even know all the decisions that are being made. 

When you become a manager you can’t solve every problem, when you become a manager of managers you may not even know about the problems that are getting solved and you have to let go of control.

You can’t have a personal relationship with every person your direct reports manage — and at some point, you won’t even be able to know everyone’s name. And, people may start to see you differently — perhaps as the big intimidating boss they have to perform for versus the nice person they used to say hi to in the coffee line. 

Listen to the full episode to hear the team share their experiences of navigating these changing dynamics, including how Kim used to “crank call” members of her team.

Radical Candor Podcast Checklist

  1. For managers of managers, here are the conditions that you need to create so those good relationships can happen on your team. You need to make explicit to the people you’re managing, that management is part of their job. You need to make sure that none of your managers have unilateral decision-making power over who gets promoted, who gets hired, and who gets fired.
  2.  As a manager of managers, you want to create a culture of guidance. In fact, all managers do, but specifically, as a manager, managers, remember, it’s not enough to just solicit feedback. You also have to make yourself open to public criticism. You also want to design systems that are going to enable people to speak truth to power. If you want more information on how to set those up, check out season 4, episode 14.
  3. Managers of managers need to build effective teams. That starts with hiring the right people and making sure that when you’re hiring people, it is clear to them what management skills are going to be required. And don’t forget to not only put that in the job description but to make that part of the interview process as well as the reference check process. The best tip that we can give you is to call people who have reported to that person in the past and find out what they really think of them as a manager.
  4. As a manager of managers, you need to make sure that everybody’s on the same page about what the goals are. And the best way to do that is with what we call a bottoms-up OKR process or a bottoms-up goal-setting process.
  5. Remember, you are not the Hotel California of management — people can (and will) leave if you’re not managing effectively.


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Radical Candor by Kim ScottThe Radical Candor Podcast is based on the book Radical Candor: Be A Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott.

Episodes are written and produced by Brandi Neal with script editing by Amy Sandler. The show features Radical Candor co-founders Kim Scott and Jason Rosoff and is hosted by Amy Sandler.

The Radical Candor Podcast theme music was composed by Cliff Goldmacher. Order his book: The Reason For The Rhymes: Mastering the Seven Essential Skills of Innovation by Learning to Write Songs.

Sound editing by PodcastBuffs.

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